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Baker's Dozen

A Belly Full: Tanya Donelly's Favourite Albums
Emily Mackay , May 2nd, 2018 08:12

As Belly release their first album in over two decades, Tanya Donelly guides Emily Mackay through 13 favourite albums, from Leonard Cohen to The Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush to Iggy Pop, The Bunnymen, Mary Margaret O'Hara and more

Back in the 90s, when Boston dynamics wasn't a term mainly associated with unnerving robots, Belly were queens and kings of the New England indie rock scene along with the Lemonheads, Buffalo Tom, Juliana Hatfield and the rest. Formed after Donelly departed first Throwing Muses, the band she started with her stepsister Kristin Hersh, and the Breeders, the side-project that became a main-project she began with the Pixies' Kim Deal, Belly's magic-realist powerpop was a world unto itself. As Donelly discovered when she reformed them two years ago, they also meant the world to a great many. Donelly, adorably, was convinced at first that fans thought they were buying tickets to see Belly, the rapper of the same name.

"We'd been away for so long that we sort of assumed our people had ... not forgotten, but just weren't gonna find the excitement again," says Donelly. "It was definitely a happy surprise. And really, the entire reason that we made a new record at all was because of the reaction." New songs had emerged from their reunion and rehearsals, and four made their debut live – 'Army of Clay', 'Girl', recent single 'Shiny One' and 'Human Child', latter based on the WB Yeats poem The Stolen Child, a favourite of Tanya's since childhood. They'd initially intended to make these songs into an EP, but buoyed by their fans' reaction, decided to extend it to a full new album, following Buffalo Tom down the crowdfunding route. The result, Dove – sticking with the four-letter template set by 1993's Star and 1995's King – was recorded by old Boston mucker Paul Q Kolderie in Rhode Island, and will be out on 4th May.

Before returning to music, Donelly (who has also released four excellent solo albums) had been working as a doula – a traditional supporter of women through pregnancy, childbirth, and new motherhood. She got her work partly through word of mouth in the Massachusetts music community, but until the reunion, her clients were mostly unaware of her past life. "Now almost everyone I work with knows," she says, "but I've only had two situations where there was actually a fan situation involved... and that's slightly awkward at first, but honestly when there's a baby involved, nobody cares. That becomes 100% the focus of the situation. There's way more awkwardness going on that eclipses that."

There's been little awkwardness, though, to Belly's reunion after 20 years apart. Dove is, Donelly says, "a symbol of our newfound peace as well as our hope for some future. Hoping for the olive branch at some soon point. All we're focused on is what the fuck is gonna happen." The band had sat down and considered addressing the political ructions of the day in song, but that's not the way Donelly's muse rolls. "I just can't," she says. "I'm not that much of a craftsman I guess, in terms of content it doesn't go mind-first for me.. so we're just trying to find more pragmatic ways. to make an impact, in terms of how are we gonna function as a band, what do we do, what tables are we gonna have set up at shows – activism that we can actually bring on the road with us."

There's a positivity and energy to Belly's new work that is infectious; a mature magic. The feeling in the band, says Donelly, is "healthy, and just sort of a nice new foundation that's been laid, as opposed to revisiting. The new music, and the tours, none of it feels like a nostalgic vanity project. It feels new again, at least to us."

A little nostalgia doesn't hurt, though, and so Donelly has taken some time to tell us about the 13 records that shaped her.

Belly's new album Dove is out on Friday, 4th May. To read Tanya Donelly's selections please click the image below